On Andrew Wiggins, expectations, the last nine No. 1 recruits, and my humble LeBron story
The Kansas City Star
Andrew Wiggins is college basketball’s biggest star, even without playing a game, even without setting foot on campus, even with familiar names like Russ Smith and Marcus Smart and Glenn Robinson returning to school.
That is the world of college basketball, and a testament to Wiggins’ talent. Like I wrote in the column, Bill Self remade KU basketball with an enormous star, the kid people are calling the best high school basketball talent since Lebron James.
And that’s where I’d like pause for a second.
Over the next year, depending in part on how Wiggins does at KU, you will hear that line be twisted into “The Next LeBron” or “as good as LeBron” or maybe even “better than LeBron.”
And I hope we can all shout down whoever says that. Wiggins may or may not be a transformative star, first for KU and then an NBA team when he’s the presumed first pick in next year’s draft, but the Lebron comparison means many will judge him on a completely unfair standard. He’ll be the consensus preseason national player of the year, and it should be good enough to judge him on his own standard.
Anyway, the Best High School Prospect Since Lebron thing does seem to be a near consensus, so let’s look through Rivals’ top-ranked players in the nine years since Lebron:
2012: Shabazz Muhammad. Averaged 17.9 points a game for UCLA during a season in which he may have found out his father lied about his age. Projected to be a lottery pick.
2011: Austin Rivers. Averaged 15.5 points and was second in assists for a Duke team that earned a No. 2 seed but was upset in the first round of the tournament. Was the 10th pick in the draft, but played only 23 minutes a game for the awful Pelicans.
2010: Josh Selby. Remember him? Game winner in his college debut and then, well, eventually he and KU couldn’t wait to get away from each other. Selby became a benchwarmer, then the 49th pick in the draft, and is now the basketball version of the AAAA player. His name has been used by other coaches in negative recruiting against KU.
2009: John Wall. Averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 assists, the best player for a terrific Kentucky team whose fatal flaw (shooting) ended its season in the Elite Eight. The first pick in the draft, and a very good player for a very bad Wizards team.
2008: B.J. Mullens. This was a remarkably weak class. Mullens scored 8.8 points a game for a 22-win Ohio State team that lost in the first round. Bleh. Like getting the first pick in the draft the year everyone’s choosing between offensive linemen. Picked 24th in the draft, and is a role player for the Bobcats.
2007: Michael Beasley. As I type this, I’m realizing that three of the last seven No. 1 recruits in the country decided to play basketball in Kansas. Huh. My two favorite Beasley memories from his days at K-State: dropping the Africa line and then backing it up by beating KU (though it was in Manhattan, not Zimbabwe), and that silly period in January or February when he said he wasn’t sure if he’d go pro and reporters had to pretend to take him seriously. Anyway, Beasley was the second pick in the draft behind Derrick Rose and remains immensely talented, and troubled.
2006: Greg Oden. Led Ohio State to the national final essentially playing with one hand. Picked first overall, ahead of Kevin Durant, and hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
2005: Gerald Green. This was the last year before the one-and-done rule came in. Green was picked 18th in the draft, and has been an OK NBA player and an awesome highlight reel.
2004: Dwight Howard. I think we’re all familiar with his work.
One more thought on Wiggins: I’m nearly as interested to see how he handles himself as I am how he plays. The scouting report is a quiet kid, uncomfortable with too much spotlight, but an assassin on the court. With Xavier Henry and Ben McLemore, Kansas has had one-and-done kids who’ve been a little too passive with their talent. Wiggins appears to be the end of that trend.
But it’s also going to be interesting to see how he and the people around him approach what everyone understands to be his only year on campus. Will he go to class? Start talking in the third person^? Overcompensate for the attention by passing the ball too much? Become preoccupied with giving fans a highlight play every night? Do anything to build his “brand” at KU?
Right now, you hear all the right things. Looking forward to seeing it all play out.
^ I’ve told this story before here, I think, but the whole third person thing reminds me of the time I covered LeBron James in high school. It was an absolute circus, grown men falling over themselves to kiss up to him, the PA announcer before the game hyping him like a Tyson fight, the whole thing playing out a bit like a bad movie scene. I just can’t stress enough how much the entire day was about LeBron, and how much he seemed to like it, strutting, nodding to the crowd, finishing dunks with as much flair as possible. It was a hell of a show.
Anyway, after the game, LeBron does his interview in sort of a small auditorium. There are two chairs on stage. One for LeBron, and one for some TV doofus who was the only one allowed to ask questions.
One of his questions — and I swear this is true — was, “Everyone knows you’re a great basketball player, but we also see how humble you are. How do you do that?”
And then LeBron’s answer — hand on the Bible — was even more absurd: “LeBron stays humble by being LeBron.”